Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Oh! Ilish (Hilsa) - A Culinary Delight

Monsoon and ilish are two synonyms for Bengal. Monsoon spells its magic on us and we get hooked to ilish
Ilish macher paturi, bhapa or a simple bhaja .You name it and you get it here in Bengal.
It’s said no part of ilish fish is wasted, from ilish macher tel to dim or egg, macher moro or fish head, everything is so savory and is fondly eaten too. This fish is high in fat content and the oil that comes out after frying this fish is also used in fish curries and chorchori .

What makes this fish so popular , I guess to me is the taste which is enhanced by the high content of fat or oil. However this fish is little costly on your pocket , an average Ilish will result you spending around Rs 300-400 Per Fish and a normal fully grown fish would weight around say 800 Gms .Well as this is so costly , people are rarely seen eating them on a regular basis. Few years ago the picture was different and during monsoon , Puja time Hilsa used to be the most saleable fish of the season .

Well My FIL has seen this Fish being sold at Rs 4-5 per fish , and I really wonder with these growing cost and little supply ,will our future generation will ever see this fish or will it remain a tale of Grandparents .

Preparing this fish with some shorshe (mustard paste) is the most traditional way of preparing, however there are some new experiments also going on like grilled hilsa or like smoked boneless steak and even Ilish Korma, Ilish biryani and so on.

One interesting debate goes on is whether the Ilish from Padma tastes better than the ilish from Ganga , Well I leave it to “you all” the lovers of ilish to decide .

Here I am Posting Four Recipes at one go which revolves round Ilish or hilsa .

Shorshe Ilish (Hilsa cooked in chilly Mustard Paste )

Shorshe ilish
serves for 4
Hilsa fried fish- 5 pieces
1tsp of turmeric powder
2tsp of red pepper powder
3-4 tsp of mustard paste
3-4 green chilly
1 tsp of salt
2-3 tbs of mustard oil or the oil that comes out after frying the fish

Add to the fry pan/kadai /wok ,all the above-turmeric powder,red pepper powder and salt and 1 cup of water except green chilly and mustard paste.let it come to a boil.
(Prepare the mustard paste with little salt , green chilly, little bit of water and mustard in Mixer or refer this recipe -
*(Mustard Seeds – quarter cup
Make a smooth paste in Sheel Nora, or
Grind it in mixer with enough water, 2 Green chilly ,salt and 1 fat garlic pod into an even paste, -grinding in mixer sometimes end up making the paste bitter.
TIP- you can dry grind the mustard seeds approx ½ cup at one go, store in a air tight plastic vessel , don’t let moisture set in , then while preparing the curries add accordingly with little bit of water , salt and mustard oil .)*
Cover and lower the flame , cook for 5-7mints .
Add mustard paste at the end , TIP-do not heat anymore otherwise it may turn bitter , take out in a separate vessel , serve chopped coriander leaves .
Serve with warm rice and enjoy shorshe ilish .

Bhapa Ilish ( Steamed Hilsa with Chilly Mustard paste)

Bhapa is just the same with ingredients , except the gravy is cooked on a water bath or steamed and the fish pieces are raw, sometimes cumin seeds are also added while making mustard seeds paste.
For the simple way , in a kadai, add water upto half  mark, place and check the steel box in which you want to make bhapa , make sure it is at least half submerged in water.
Add all the ingredients and little more water and drizzle about half a cup of mustard oil  ,2-3 green chilly slit in between  , coat well the raw fish with this marination ,transfer them to steel box , cover it.

Now transfer that to kadai with water , place a heavy weight over it (generally it’s the shil-nora ), lower the flame and cook for 35-45 mints ,meanwhile if the water dries out add more gently by the sides ,or better add in extra in the beginning .let it cool off and then open and serve with warm rice .
This is how my Granmother always used to prepare Ilish Macher Bhapa .
Fish pieces cooked with this way are delicate and often tear out while taking out , but that’s OK , after all its Hilsa anyway .

Ilish Macher Jhaal ( Hilsa Fish Curry )

Macher Jhaal
Serves for 4
Mustard Seeds – quarter cup
Make a smooth paste in Sheel Nora, or
Grind it in mixer with enough water, 2 Green chilly ,salt and 1garlic pod into an even paste, grinding in mixer sometimes end up making the paste bitter.
TIP- you can dry grind the mustard seeds approx ½ cup at one go, store in a air tight plastic vessel , don’t let moisture set in , then while preparing the curries add accordingly with little bit of water , salt and mustard oil .This will be very useful and it will not end up being bitter .
2 medium size potatoes – cut into long pieces
Brinjal or eggplant – 1 cut into long pieces, makes upto 12 pieces from 1 long brinjal
1 tsp Turmeric powder
1 tsp of Red pepper powder (add less for less spice as the mustard paste has green chilly also)
1tsp of cumin seeds
4 heaped tbs of mustard oil
1tsp of salt and for marinating
Clean the fish pieces and marinate with turmeric powder and salt,
Heat up a kadai/heavy bottom pan, add oil and fry the fish pieces at med , batch of 4 at a time, take out and drain.
Now if required add more mustard oil , otherwise hilsa fish releases quite a lot of oil while its being fried which is sufficient for this curry so its better to utilize that oil in the gravy .
Add cumin seeds, let it splutter.
Add potatoes and fry at med for 3 mints, add salt, turmeric powder and red pepper powder and add 1 cup of water ( add more water if you think you need a patla jhol )
Add cut brinjal pieces and fried fish pieces, cover and cook the fish till potatoes become soft .
At the end , add mustard seeds paste and take out in a separate vessels .
TIP- please do not cook fish gravy after adding mustard seed paste as it will end up making the gravy bitter .

Ilish macher Dim Bhaja ( Hilsa fish's egg Fry/Fried Fish Roe)

Serves For 5

Fish roe- 2
1 tsp of turmeric powder
1 tsp of salt
2 tbs of besan .
3 tbs of mustard oil


First wash the egg with sac/roe gently in water , handle the egg sac with care , make sure it doesn’t get ripped of .
Now marinate with turmeric powder , salt .
Coat well with Besan ,Tip- this will make the frying easy .
Heat up kadai , add mustard oil, release the egg sac one at a time gemtly and quickly lower the flame , fry the side for 5-6 mints at low, flip the side gently and fry at low for 7mints .
Take out and drain in paper towels ,serve with onions or warm cooked rice , we prefer the later .

Another way my mom does is mix in egg with besan, salt,turmeric powder and make small round patties , gently press them and fry at low for 4 -5 mints at low .

Other Hilsa Related Post

Khichuri and Ilish (Hilsa) Macher Bhaja
Puin Shaaker Chorchori

Happy Cooking Friends


  1. I seem to have read that there are more ilish in the Padma than the Ganga and that's why they're priced higher - also something to do with the unseasonal catch of the Ilish depleting the traditional water bodies.
    That egg roast looks good, tho' I'm yet to take a liking to roe.

  2. I have read here and there about the bong love for hilsa . but i didnt know that it is called Ilish too.....i hope to taste this if even i make a trip to calcutta...looking at the fish slices, it looks like the seerfish pieces....thank you for this post...:)


  3. Now..this is absolute torture!!
    Such yummy looking shorshe ilish and dimer bodaa...right in front and not being able to savor it!!!! :)
    Hope everyone at home enjoyed alot!! You take such good care of your family Jaya...good work :)

  4. I agree with you on the whole story ... but as long as we get Ilish .. especially in my case as I stay in Pune ... what does it matter where it is from Ganga/Padma? What say :-)
    Lucky you ... enjoying Ilish :-)
    Recipes and pics look so tempting.
    I too got Ilish this time .. am lucky this year. :-)

  5. Sra,
    That I am Not so sure , Padma is just the extension of Ganaga in Bangladesh ..But the soul remains remains the same !
    Commercialization has changed many a thing , That Includes disturbing many natural food cycles ...
    Thanks for coming by .

    Ilish and Bengali are inseparable!LOL..
    Do let me know if you taste it .
    Yes,I have also read somewhere that it looks similar to seer fish but taste I am not sure ....
    thanks for stoping by.


    Thanks and arey! dont get tortured , amaar eyirokom mane chilo na.
    Hope my family thinks the same way as you do LOL...Mach Bhaja aar tar Pore macher dim Bhaja shob onek time consuming job LOL !

    the debate will go on , But thats a very universal thing from football to fish LOL ..
    hain as far as fish is available who cares if the fish is from Ganga/or Padma.
    I think the soul remains same eyi Paarer hi hok ba oyi Parer hok.

    Hugs and smiles

  6. Naare...this is a sweet torture..one that reminds of good things and makes your desire intense!! :)
    Actually aami food relish kori jaara khete bhalobashe taader bhalomondo khaiyye...aamar nijer khawaar ichhe beshii thake naa!! I guess that happens with most of us...after cooking we don't feel like eating!! :)

  7. Joyeeta,
    Thats so true , ranna kore khabate bhalo bashi , kinto nije khete hole ..LOL..
    Thanks tumi ashle ....

  8. Jaya, you have me craving for all the delicacies. Ki shundar lagche macher jhol, jhaal, aar dim bhaja....
    Also love the pic of rain in kolkata.

  9. Hi this is my first time here... your blogs looks so good..
    the fish curry looks absolutely fantastic.. i am big sea food freak and thanks for sharing this recipe with us.
    Happy blogging!

  10. Thanks mandira,Sagari and Spices N Aroma for coming here .....

  11. Hi. I am the founder of a chain of botox treatments clinics in Malad, a suburb in Mumbai, India. Don't let the surname fool you. I am Punjabi married to a Bengali but divorced. I tried making the recipe as mentioned above but used a steamer. I also replaced the hilsa with the Kingfish Mackerel (surmai) readily available in Mumbai's fish markets. It tasted great. I had a question? Is a two-tiered steamer (with boiling water below and the fish placed in the compartment above) good for cooking this or should I stick to a pressure cooker for greater taste. Since the upper compartment had perforations for the steam to enter, I wrapped the fish and the accompanying sauce in banana leaf. When it was ready, the yellow fish pieces and sauce over the green leaf added a great visual accompaniment.

  12. This dish is calling me “make me make me. Thank you. Recipes.

  13. Thanks for sharing traditional and yummy Bengali recipe Ilish Macher Paturi , for making this recipe fish cooked in banana leaf . if you don’t have banana leaf , Instead of Banana leaf you can make it in foil or in oven-proof covered dish with some extra 2-3 tbsp of Mustard oil and bake in the oven or microwave for 15 mins.


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